Do Pagans Go To Heaven or Hell?

 

The author of the interesting and challenging blog site on sacred art and its analysis called Catchlight sent me two questions yesterday. They related to my last post which was entitled Fatima Messages, Pagans in the Vatican, and the End Times.

Paul, your protestations begs the question, do pagans go to Heaven? If so, why? If not, why not?      from Bernard Gallagher

These are excellent questions.

Before I attempt to answer them my readers should understand that I am a committed Roman Catholic. These questions will be answered through the lens of the teachings of my faith. That Faith is based on a foundation of Holy Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and two thousand years of Catholic scholarship. Also, the philosophical reasonings of two extremely erudite scholars, Peter J. Kreeft, Ph.D, and Rev Ronald K. Tacelli, S.J., have assisted me through the insights of their many books.

First, I say that Jesus Christ, is the Word of God, the Son of the Father, begotten not made and consubstantial with Him. He is the Messiah, the Savior, and through His life, death, and resurrection redeemed mankind from their sins. He is known to mankind through the historical Gospels, the Epistles of the Apostle Paul, the erudition of the Church Fathers and Doctors of the Church, and the extraordinary scholarship of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. Additionally, the testimony of the angels and the saints, of whom the Blessed Mother Mary is the greatest, contribute to mankind’s understanding and witness. Jesus is also known through the free gift of His graces through the Seven Sacraments of the Church, beginning with the keystone Sacrament, Baptism.

Hagiasophia-christ-1
An icon of Jesus Christ. It is found within the former Eastern Rite Church of Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom). The Church was built in the early 6th century and is located in Istanbul, Turkey (formerly Constantinople). It has been a museum since 1935.

Second, let’s refer to what Jesus Christ says in response to Nicodemus’ questions concerning eternal life in the Gospel of St. John, John 3: 1-21: “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus continues to question Him, and Jesus responds, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a man be born again of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God…You must be born again.”

Baptism into the Christian faith is again stressed in another passage of the Gospels. The Gospel of St. Matthew, in its very last passage deals with the commissioning of the Apostles, which occurred after His resurrection and before His Ascension back to the Father. Jesus emphasizes that combined with their preaching and works they must baptize faith-filled individuals because of Adam and Eve’s sin. Humanity’s broken relationship with God must be healed. It was healed through the death and resurrection of the Father’s Son Jesus the Christ. Jesus death, on our behalf allowed the formation of the Church and the Sacraments to be instituted to provide the grace to a broken humanity. Baptism is the Sacrament that makes this happen. It makes an individual’s body and soul a member of God’s family. Matthew 28: 18-20: “Jesus drew near and spoke to them saying, “all power in Heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” 

Third, it appears, within the Christian faith, that we can come to specific conclusions that will provide a springboard for my response to Mr. Gallagher:

  1. If the human race was alienated from God, and the spiritual relationship with Him was broken, then a loving and merciful God would not give up on His children. Thus, through the course of history God has slowly manifested Himself to humanity starting with our spiritual parents, Adam and Eve, then through the patriarchs, leaders, and prophets of the chosen Jewish tribes and culminating in the incarnation of His Son, Jesus the Christ. God desires us to conform to His Laws. He has given us reason and free will. The ability to think and act not like robots but as free men and women; but, His revealed truths and laws must be evangelized and faithfully kept. The “Good News” must be spread.
  2. The First Commandment applies, as we see in Exodus 20: 1-6ff: “I, the Lord am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery. You shall not have other gods besides Me. You shall not carve idols for yourselves…you shall not bow down to them or worship them. For I the Lord am a jealous God…inflicting punishment on those who are wicked and hate me…and mercy on those who love Me and keep My commandments.”
  3. Through study and faith we also know that Jesus Christ, as the consubstantial only Son of God, is the promised Savior. Have pagans been exposed to that truth?
  4. He freely offered Himself for our eternal salvation. This was accomplished through the words and actions of His human ministry and ultimately through His death and resurrection. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Have pagans been exposed to that truth?
  5. We see God through faith in Him and participating in prayer, Scripture study, good works, and Sacramental grace. Have pagans been exposed to these truths?
  6. As He said Himself, the Sacrament of Baptism is a necessity. Have pagans been exposed and evangelized to that truth? 

A multitude of volumes  have been written on the above six points. I may have missed some critical ones, for which I apologize. For the sake of brevity, however, allow me to move on to specifically answer the questions of Mr. Gallagher.

Fourth, so, are pagans going to Heaven or Hell?

In a nutshell, I would never presume to know God’s mind. I would never make a judgement on another person’s soul as he or she are seen by God at the time of their death and individual judgement. Unknown to the world, even a great sinner may suddenly, in their last moments, repent of their sins and ask for mercy. But, make no mistake about it. Jesus specifically says that there is a Hell (Matthew 10: 28; 22: 13. Luke 16: 26; etc.); as well as a Heaven.

Some additional issues:

  1. Let’s take a look at three major Greek philosophers: Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. They were scholars who lived and died  before the birth and ministry of  Jesus Christ. They lived within a pagan society whose members believed in a multitude of pagan gods. Their society was polytheistic and pantheistic.  Are Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle in Heaven or Hell?
  2. The answer is, “I don’t know!”
  3. But Jesus said, “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14: 6). Wouldn’t that statement preclude the Greek philosophers entrance into Heaven?
  4. The answer is “Not automatically.”
  5. Why? What do we know? We know that those three philosophers were men who searched for the truth, not only about  themselves as individuals but about the world itself. They searched after the truth. They made the sincere effort to find the truth by thinking, questioning, analyzing reality, both physical and metaphysical. They used all the evidence at their disposal to do so. They lived, before the Son of God was incarnated, so, they did not have the witness, of Jesus Christ, and to His specific and eternal revelation as the Son of God, both human and divine. They also probably did not have any exposure to the history of the Jewish people and God’s revelation to them.
  6. But, in the time after the Incarnation and Ascension of Jesus, a person who had the opportunity to be exposed to the teachings of the  Christian Faith (in the Protestant and Anglican churches, and the full expression of it in the Western and Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church), would have a critical choice to make.
  7. If they are pagan, agnostic, atheist, Christian, deist, etc, and they would then, after sincere effort to know the truth, reject Jesus Christ out of intentional misunderstanding, intellectual arrogance, stubbornness, cultural and historic prejudices, selfishness, narcissistic impulses, or some evil influence they would, in my opinion, be putting their eternal soul into very great danger.
  8. God is loving and compassionate, filled with mercy (for those who sincerely repent of their sins). God is a just and merciful; however, there are consequences for turning your back on Jesus Christ.
  9. But do pagans turn their backs?
  10. The key to answering that question is ‘Have they been exposed to the truths of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures? Have they been evangelized by courageous and selfless missionaries who are willing to undergo all sorts of hardships and possibly even martyrdom for the sake of their flocks eternal souls?
  11. The Church’s duty and responsibility is to bring, without arrogance or condescension, the Holy Scriptures, Sacred Traditions, and the Holy Sacraments to the world. If its ministers and priests shirk or compromise their duties, give bad example through public and private sin, then they may be the ones who are denied entrance into Heaven.
  12. Is the Church giving sufficient resources to the missionaries in the field? Are we able to inspire young men and women in today’s world of the necessity and challenge to enter the life of a missionary? Have we thrown in the towel?
  13. This is my great concern about what I see in the Church today. The Christian churches should not be about assimilation of pagan cultures into the Faith in order “To learn from them,” or in a “spirit of dialogue” and accommodation.
  14.  The Western and Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church have the complete and total revelation of God to humanity. We have the way to God, the complete revealed truth of God, and the example of what it means to live in the heart of the Father, through the human birth, ministry, and Redemptive Act of the Son of God, Jesus Christ.
  15. Matthew 28: 18-20, relates Jesus’ specific command. Our duty is to compassionately and without arrogance teach pagans and other non-believers about Jesus Christ, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
  16. It is intellectually and morally irresponsible to give the impression that pagan/polytheistic cultures can add to the deposit of faith. We are either for Him or against Him. We either understand the gift of the Deposit of the Faith or we don’t. There should be no waffling.
  17. We either proclaim His truth effectively and with conviction or we will see the Church continue to decline, make compromises, and cause confusion, anxiety, division and resentment among its faithful,
  18. The Gospel of Luke 18: 8 challenges us to examine our own hearts: “When the Son of Man comes will He find faith on the earth?” 
  19. To paraphrase Kreeft and Tacelli, If we have a diamond of immense and extraordinary  value (our Catholic/Christian Faith) why would we go about the world seeking additional baubles?
  20. Refer also to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2nd edition, 1997, pages 311-324) which has an excellent section on the Sacrament of Baptism.

Copyright © 2011- 2019, Deacon Paul O. Iacono – All Rights Reserved. Permission to reprint must be obtained from the author in writing. Students, and those interested, may quote small sections of the article as long as the proper credit and notation is given. Thank you

Baptism, Discipleship, and the Art of Lorenzo Lotto

In our Gospel last week we stood at the banks of the Jordan River and witnessed Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist. Today we hear John announce to all that the Spirit of God rests upon Jesus who is described as the Lamb of God and the Light of the World. John goes on to say that Jesus is not an angel, a prophet, nor a magician; rather, He is the incarnate Son of the Most High God. John reminds us that as the “Lamb of God” Jesus has a specific mission. His role is to teach and preach, and most importantly, it is to heal, and that healing can only occur through sacrificial service – specifically through the sacrifice of His own blood.

We are just one month past the celebration of the birth of Jesus and today our Gospel reminds us of the purpose of His mission.

Five hundred years ago a beautiful painting was completed by the Italian artist Lorenzo Lotto entitled the Nativity of Christ. Lotto presents the typical stable scene, yet, his spiritual insight focuses on one specific artistic touch: he places on the wall behind a kneeling St. Joseph the image of a crucifix with the body of Christ emanating a beautiful glowing light that spills out onto the wood of the cross and the stable itself.

nativity

To my knowledge, Lotto’s innovation was the first time such an insight had been seen in Western art, but its originality is emphasized by the fact that your eye naturally moves from the crucifix, through the eyes of Joseph and Mary, and then down to the open arms of Jesus. Here as an infant, on the wood of the manger, He freely opened His arms to Mary and Joseph; and as an adult carpenter, He freely laid Himself down upon the wood of the Cross, to be sacrificed in an open embrace of love for all.

The challenge of this Gospel is that Christ offers us, as His disciples, the model of sacrificial service. No matter who you are, or what your age or station in life, you can perform sacrificial service to those around you. But it must be offered in the same redemptive spirit that Christ offered His service: with spiritual love and compassion for the souls of those in need. By virtue of our own Baptism we are all called to serve others as Christ has served us. You may be a mother or father caring for children or elderly parents – this care, if offered in the spirit of Christ – is sacrificial service. You may be a sacred artist, laboring quietly and prayerfully to create beautiful images that will assist yourself and others in prayer. This creative labor is sacrificial service.

You may be a child or teenager that courageously doesn’t participate in the bullying of another and comforts the one injured – if offered in the spirit of Christ – this is sacrificial service. You may be an adult – sick or aching from the pain of years of courageous work for your family or on behalf of the Church’s needs, such as supporting the pro-life movement or other social and moral justice issues. You see, if in prayer – you offer up your pain and efforts for souls in need – this is Christ-like, redemptive, sacrificial service. So as we offer sacrificial service on behalf of others, we turn our mind to God and place ourselves in His presence. This presence is a moment of prayer for us.

Allow me to make a recommendation: when we offer sacrificial service we should say the first verse of Psalm 70, which says, “God come to my assistance, Lord make haste to help me.” By saying this prayer, awareness of our Baptismal discipleship takes root. For it is in that short verse that we successfully unite ourselves to Jesus in the Jordan River, and like Him, receive grace from the Father to continue our mission, even if it ends up on Calvary.

As we travel through the dark days of winter, let us not forget that the Light of Christ is always present to us, and that Jesus’ arms will always remain open to patiently help us as we serve others.

God come to our assistance. Lord, make haste to help us.

***The above homily will be delivered by me at St. Romuald Chapel at 10 AM, and Noon at St. Francis of Assisi Church, South Kingstown, Rhode Island, USA on Sunday January 19, 2014. Copyright © 2011- 2014 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved. Notes on the Painting: Lorenzo Lotto’s Nativity of Christ was completed in 1523. It is painted in oil on wood, and is presently in The National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.